After a stomach churning ride over the Gombori Mountain range between Tbilisi and Telavi, where we stopped along the way to take breathtaking photos of the snowcapped Caucasus mountains in the distance, we arrived at Ikalto Academy. Established in the 6th century, Ikalto Academy is perhaps home to the oldest winemaking school in the world.
|Some of the members of our group crossing the Gombori Mountains|
We were greeted by Bishop David who welcomed us in Georgian to the ancient site, while Tina translated. The Bishop explained that the school was founded by Saint Zenon, one of 13 fathers who came from Syria to Georgia because they had received a message from the Blessed Virgin Mary to build churches across the country.
See short video of our welcome with Bishop David here.
|Khvtaeba Chapel at Ikalto Academy|
Ikalto Academy actually has three different chapels, but Saint Zenon is buried in the oldest one called Khvtaeba. This chapel is currently being renovated, because the Russians pained over the original frescos with white paint in an attempt to stamp out religion.
The academy is located behind the church, and is also being renovated as part of an active archeological site. Bishop David showed us the location of the ancient classrooms, where philosophy, math, and winemaking were taught.
|Exploring the Ancient Classrooms of Ikalto Academy|
According to the Bishop some of the oldest qvevri in Georgia have been found here. It is also home to the largest satsnakheli, or the wooden trough they used to stomp the grapes, similar to the lagares found in Portugal.
|Qvevri Found at Ikalto Academy|
As we wandered around the grounds, we were impressed with the many ancient qvevri stacked against the old stone walls. We could also see the open tops of many of the buried qvevri in the marani (wine cellar) section of the academy.
|Open Tops of Qvevri in Ancient Marani (Wine Cellar)|
There was a peaceful feeling amongst the ancient ruins, with a blue sky overhead making the grass look greener and emphasizing the white spring blossoms that appeared on many of the trees. It would have been a wonderful place to study philosophy and winemaking. Fortunately, according to Bishop David, the goal is to re-establish the academy as a center for teaching the ancient Georgian winemaking methods.
|Standing Proudly Next to Bishop David|